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Complex processing of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) by free-ranging long-tailed macaques: preliminary analysis for hierarchical organisation


Complex food-processing techniques by gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans have allowed comparisons of complex hierarchical cognition between great apes and humans. Here, we analyse preliminary observations of free-ranging long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) (n = 3) in Thailand processing Opuntia sp. cactus fruits. From our observations, we suggest that there is potential to extend the analyses of hierarchical cognition to Old World monkeys. We found that the macaques used six behavioural sequences to obtain Opuntia fruits, remove irritant hairs from the skin of the fruits, and break open, and consume the fruits, each a unique combination of 17 action elements. Removing irritant hairs involved abrading fruits on a sand or rock substrate, and washing fruit in water. The behavioural sequences that macaques use to process Opuntia potentially show features of hierarchical organisation described in the leaf-processing behaviours of great apes. Our observations highlight the need for closer study of complex food-processing behaviour in monkeys to better understand the organisational capacities involved.

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We thank the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) for permitting Amanda W. Y. Tan, Lydia Luncz, Michael Haslam, and Michael D. Gumert to conduct research in the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation (DNP) for allowing our team to conduct research in Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park (KSRY). We thank Mr Runjroj Atsawakultarin, the superintendent of KSRY for administrative help, and the community of Phu Noi Village for logistical support and hospitality during our project. Thank you also to Ms Lauren O’Boyle for her field research assistance, and Mr Felix Merklinger for information on Opuntia cacti. The project has been funded by the Visiting Professor Scheme at the Department of Biology, Chulalongkorn University, the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) Incentive Grant Scheme, a Leakey Foundation Doctoral Research Grant, and a European Research Council Starting Grant No. 283959 (PRIMARCH).

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Correspondence to Amanda W. Y. Tan.

Electronic supplementary material

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Online resource 1. Video of the stages and elements involved in long-tailed macaques’ Opuntia processing techniques, Nom Sao Island. (MPG 48494 kb)

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Tan, A.W.Y., Luncz, L., Haslam, M. et al. Complex processing of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) by free-ranging long-tailed macaques: preliminary analysis for hierarchical organisation. Primates 57, 141–147 (2016).

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  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Hierarchically organised behaviour
  • Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park
  • Thailand